(With the Seahawks on a bye-week vacation, I pinch-hit tonight for Bob. He had a personal planes-trains-automobiles day with delays in airports trying to get back from Toronto that would have impressed John Candy and Steve Martin. Not sure it impressed Bob much, though.)
What I saw at Safeco tonight:
The Mariners passed out white towels on Fan Appreciation Night. It was a sea of ivory waving throughout the yard when Dustin Ackley, Kendrys Morales and Michael Saunders hit home runs.
No, these white flags were not signaling a Seattle surrender. Not yet.
“Game 161 (Saturday) and we’re still in it,” Ackley said. “It’s awesome.”
Hisashi Iwakuma picked the absolutely mandatory, season-saving time to rebound. Pitching with a tight back, tight groin and even tighter margin of error for Seattle’s dwindling playoff hopes, the right-hander allowed Los Angeles only two solo home runs and two singles in 6 1-3 innings. Iwakuma left the game for precautionary reasons before Fernando Rodney made it dramatic as usual, allowing an RBI double with one out in the ninth, getting a fly out, then getting Brennan Boesch to ground out.
That plus the home runs off Angels ace Jered Weaver kept the Mariners (barely) alive in the American League playoff chase with a 4-2 victory on a Friday night when balls but not postseason chances were flying out of Safeco Field.
“Like I told my players, we are getting ready to play our 161st game -- and it's a very meaningful game,” first-year Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think that's pretty damn good.
“We’ve had a heck of a year.”
The only hope left for the Mariners to make their first postseason in 13 years is to win Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon against the division-champion Angles, and for the Athletics to lose Saturday and Sunday at last-place Texas. That improbable scenario would force a one-game playoff Monday at Safeco Field for the AL’s second wild-card spot.
The first wild card went Friday night to Kansas City.
The Mariners have responded to their disastrous, five-game losing streak with consecutive wins behind five home runs in two games over 30 hours across three time zones, in Toronto and Seattle.
“Our backs are still against the wall,” McClendon said. “But we’ve been a very resilient club all year.
“I like where we are – wish we were a little closer. But we’ll see what happens.”
During the third inning, the Mariners learned via the big, green scoreboard behind the left-field wall that Oakland won at Texas 6-2. That meant Seattle had to win to retain any mathematical possibility of their first postseason in 13 years.
The Mariners improved to 78-22 when scoring at least three runs. They also won a season series against the Angles for the first time since 2003 with their 10th win in 17 games against Los Angeles.
Now it’s up to James Paxton (6-4, 3.03 ERA) on Saturday and Felix Hernandez (14-6, 2.34) in Sunday’s regular-season finale to keep the Mariners’ playoff hopes flickering. They need that plus losses by Oakland in Texas on Saturday, when it starts Jeff Samardzija (7-12, 2.88), and Sunday when the A’s start Sonny Gray (13-10, 3.21).
“With Paxton and Felix right behind him, we can’t ask for much more,” Ackley said.
Right. Because that – and a hope for a miraculous Texas two-step – is all the Mariners have left.
--It didn't get into my game story I just filed for tomorrow's News Tribune, but wow what a catch by Mike Trout in the bottom of the eighth. Trout shaded Kendrys Morales to the left-center field gap, near the Mariners' logo in the power ally. Morales smoked a line drive to the right of dead center field. Trout sprinted like a football wide receiver about 35 yards to his left, so quickly he slightly overran the ball. Then he reached back, leaped -- again like a wide receiver -- and made a stupendous, over-the-head-and-shoulder catch of the rising liner. He held onto the ball while tumbling shoulder-first onto the grass just in front of the warning track. Might have been the best catch I've seen in person at a baseball game.
And it came moments after Trout's mouth was agape at Mariners rookie Carson Smith, whose been in the major leagues only since Sept. 1, spinning a wicked slider on the all-world hitter for a strikeout to end the bottom of the eighth. Trout could only manage a weak check swing. He then stared in disbelief at Smith and also at home-plate umpire Dan Bellino.
"I just wanted to attack him," Smith said, with confidence that belie his 24 years of age and mere eight major-league appearances. "I was just trying to throw him a pitch he couldn't hit."
Funny thing was, Smith had shaken off signs from catcher Mike Zunino three different times earlier in Trout's at-bat.
"And he didn't change the sign one time," Smith said, smiling. "So I was thinking, 'What am I doing here?'"
What he's doing here is allowing no runs on just two hits in eight innings this month, with two walks and 10 strikeouts.
The Mariners 2013 minor league reliever of the year was 1-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 39 games as the part-time closer for Triple-A Tacoma this season.